Sri Lanka’s newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has vowed to “deliver solutions” to the island’s deepening economic crisis, kicked off duties on Friday, discussing formation of a “foreign aid consortium” with Colomb-based envoys, his office said.
His outreach came a day after he was sworn in Premier by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in place of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned earlier this week in the wake of attacks carried out by his supporters on anti-government protesters. For months now, scores of citizens groups, youth, professionals, and artistes have been agitating with the demand that President Rajapaksa step down over the crippling economic crisis. The attacks triggered violent retaliations, prompting authorities to impose a police curfew, as homebound citizens further struggle to access essentials including food, fuel, medicines and cooking gas amid acute shortages.
Indian envoy Gopal Baglay was among the first to meet Mr. Wickremesinghe shortly after he assumed charge Friday morning. “High Commissioner called on Hon’ble PM [Ranil Wickremesinghe] @RW_UNP. Conveyed greetings and good wishes. Discussed continued cooperation for economic recovery and stability in #SriLanka through democratic processes towards the wellbeing of all the people of Sri Lanka,” the Indian mission said in a tweet. India has extended assistance totalling $3.5 billion this year to help Sri Lanka cope with its severe dollar crunch.
Mr. Wickremesinghe has taken up a tough job at a time when the country’s reserves are dangerously low. Former Finance Minister Ali Sabry – the Cabinet ceased to be after Mr. Mahinda’s resignation – recently told parliament that Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves stood at $50 million, barely enough to service a week’s imports. Colombo has pinned its hopes on IMF assistance but is looking for bridge financing get past the next few months.
The new PM, who is in office for the sixth time, also met the Ambassadors of China, United States, Japan, and the British High Commissioner. “The Chinese Ambassador, when meeting Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, expressed his country’s willingness to continue to support Sri Lanka while also pledging to review existing assistance provided to the country,” his office said in a statement.
Politically, Mr. Wickremesinghe has few backers other than the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front) at the moment. Opposition parties have said they will not be part of a government led by him and Mr. Gotabaya, while government allies seem hesitant to take up ministerial positions. The new PM has no parliamentary colleagues from the United National Party he leads, he is its sole legislator. It remains to be seen if Mr. Wickremsinghe can prove he has the confidence of the House when the Parliament convenes on May 17. The country also awaits a new cabinet and government to run its affairs at a critical time.